10 Stories That Seared Cincinnati Sports into Our Brains in 2021

Even with COVID-19 restrictions (at least until late spring), economy woes and snack shortages, 2021 was a great year for sports in Cincinnati.

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Sports – they happened in 2021. - Photo: Littlesister Flickr/CC
Photo: Littlesister Flickr/CC
Sports – they happened in 2021.

Even with COVID-19 restrictions (at least until late spring), economy woes and snack shortages, 2021 was a great year for sports in Cincinnati. Against a backdrop of excitement that the athletic gods were finally back, fans could enjoy the highs and lows of watching their favorite teams do their favorite things — win.

The Reds’ Jonathan India Is the Rookie of the Year and Every Other Superlative
The Cincinnati Reds’ second baseman Jonathan India secured a cabinet full of hardware recognizing his outstanding 2021 season. The Sporting News named India as its National League Rookie of the Year for 2021; he was named the National League’s Outstanding Rookie in the MLB Players Choice Awards; and Baseball America named India as its Rookie of the Year. But he also snagged the big, big award: India was named the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s 2021 Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year for Major League Baseball’s National League. reds.com.

Soccer Star Rose Lavelle Uses Cincinnati Moxie to Kick Some Ass
Oh, Rose Lavelle, look at you now. 2021 was extremely kind to the Mount Notre Dame High School alumna, who continues to prove that Cincinnati breeds winners. In November, Lavelle and the U.S. Women’s National Team demolished Paraguay in the first-ever U.S. Soccer match at TQL Stadium in the West End, with Lavelle scoring in just the fourth minute of the match. The midfielder also helped the USWNT to a bronze medal in the 2020 Olympics this summer, scoring the team’s first goal of its annihilation of New Zealand (though the Tokyo Olympics happened in 2021, they still were considered to be the 2020 Olympic Games due to the coronavirus pandemic delay). And earlier this year, Lavelle was named MVP during the winning match of the 2021 SheBelieves Cup. There’s a reason Lavelle’s mural at The Banks remains a must-see for soccer fans. ussoccer.com.

FC Cincinnati Sees Lots of Changes
2021 was not the season of dreams for Queen City soccer fans — FC Cincinnati finished the year with a 4-22-8 record, tying it with the 2019 season for losses. But there’s hope for change in 2022 with the recent announcement of a new head coach. FC Cincinnati has tapped Pat Noonan, a former player and assistant coach for various MLS teams, to step into the role. Other changes happened in 2021: Former general manager Gerard Nijkamp departed in August, and the club released former head coach Jaap Stam and two assistant coaches in September. However, the team also broke in its brand-new $250 million TQL Stadium in the West End this year. The venue played host to the United States Men’s National Soccer Team’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Mexico, and the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (featuring Cincinnati’s own Rose Lavelle) pounded Paraguay during an international friendly there. On the horizon: the city is bidding to host a 2026 World Cup match. fccincinnati.com.

The Bengals Get New Uniforms and Win a Surprising Amount of Games
We don’t live in a comic book universe, but it sure seems like the Cincinnati Bengals have superpowers thanks to some new duds. After a months-long tease, the Bengals revealed “New Stripes” uniforms in April — the team’s first significant change in 17 years. The only thing untouched? The Bengals’ iconic tiger-striped helmet. The uniform change seems to have given the team some spark, as the Bengals have already crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers (twice!) and won more games so far than anyone outside the franchise had predicted. Can the magic push the team to the Super Bowl? We wouldn’t bet against them these days. bengals.com.

Nick Castellanos + Cincinnati Reds = Ross & Rachel?
Are they done for good, or will they get back together? This winter, Castellanos and the Reds have embodied the “Will they or won’t they” energy of the famous couple on Friends. After Castellanos had a fantastic season that earned him an MLB Silver Slugger Award, the outfielder opted out of the final two years of his contract, forfeiting $16 million per year. The Reds then made a qualifying offer (set across the league at $18.4 million), which Castellanos rejected, later saying that he’d consider another offer from the team — something Reds fans are clamoring for. As of press time, the relationship still is stalled, but we’re hoping for a holiday (armadillo) miracle — and, yeah, we know it’s a longshot. Castellanos is considered to be one of the best free agents available and has drawn interest from multiple teams. reds.com.

University of Cincinnati Gets Major ESPN Screentime
For the first time ever, ESPN’s mega-popular pre-game show College Gameday visited Cincinnati for UC’s homecoming game. Bearcats fans were ecstatic to have the sports network broadcasting live from on campus in the lead-up to the game against Tulsa at Nippert Stadium. Fans also lined up in the wee hours of the morning to be part of the Gameday team’s live shots for Good Morning America on ABC. Homecoming already is pretty special, but having the Bearcats’ game-winning, last-minute field goal beamed live to the nation and around the globe? Absolutely priceless. gobearcats.com.

Cincinnati Cyclones Return to the Ice after Nearly Two Years of Pandemic Delays
For a long time during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cincinnati had a big puck-shaped hole. The Cincinnati Cyclones hadn’t played an official, regular-season game since March 11, 2020 — that is, until Oct. 23 of this year, when the Cyclones visited the Indy Fuel. The return of our favorite ice sport gave fans a new head coach in Jason Payne (the only currently active head coach of color in professional hockey), a 2022 ECHL Hall of Famer in Cyclones president Ray Harris and all the dollar beer nights anyone could want. Hockey is back, baby. cycloneshockey.com.

A New York Mets Announcer Hates Cincinnati Chili. Like, Haaaaaaates it
We’ll admit that Cincinnati-style chili isn’t for everyone, but show a little respect, huh? New York Mets announcer Gary Cohen went off on the dish during the broadcast of a Reds vs. Mets game, calling Skyline’s 5-Way “disgusting chili gravy.” Showing a video of someone expertly preparing the aforementioned dish, Cohen narrated its construction: “The 5-Way, with the spaghetti and the beans and the cheese — first the disgusting chili gravy. After the onions comes the cheese, and that’s what makes it the 5-Way. There’s the cheese. They put like 10 tons of shredded cheese on there. And this is supposed to be food that you actually eat.”Cohen then told co-broadcaster Ron Darling, “Try it once, and then you’ll never eat it again.” The Cincinnati Twitterverse immediately jumped into action defending the local delicacy, including the home team. “Two facts: Jonathan India is good. Skyline Chili is good,” the Reds said. We can’t argue with that logic.

A Delhi Township Bar and LeBron James Get into a Weird Social Media Fight
Yes, this was a thing. Jay Linneman, who owns Linnie’s Pub in Delhi Township, reacted strongly on Facebook after former Cleveland Cavaliers/current Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James shared a now-deleted tweet targeted at the white Columbus police officer who allegedly shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who is Black, in April. “If anyone wants to watch an NBA game, don’t come to Linnie’s Pub. We will not air them until Lebron [sic] James has been expelled from the NBA,” Linneman posted to his personal Facebook account, which was linked from his bar’s website and which had shared controversial ideas. Linneman later either deleted the post or set it to private, but James posted his reaction to it on Twitter. “Aww, damn! I was headed there to watch our game tonight and have a drink! Welp.” James also had tweeted and then deleted tweets directed at the officer and lamented the number of Black people who are killed by police. But the story doesn’t end there! A few days later, the contact form on the Linnie’s Pub website was amended to require the user to confirm that they supported law enforcement. A link for those who “feel the need to use vile or threatening language” directed users to hell.com, a very basic, rainbow-adorned site that poses questions to visitors such as “What happens to me in Hell?” and “Am I a sinner?” James probably didn’t care. After all, the four-time NBA champion, successful businessman and developer of a STEM-based school for disadvantaged children in Akron, where he’d grown up, recently saw his 2003-2004 Upper Deck rookie card sell for $5.2 million.

Cincinnati Reds Fans Get a Shock about MLB Rivalries
Over the last seven years, Joe Cobbs, Ph.D., a professor of sports business and event management at Northern Kentucky University, has led students in surveying more than 30,000 baseball fans across the country about teams they perceive as their biggest rivals in Major League Baseball. According to Cobbs’ research, Cincinnati Reds fans claim prestige rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Fans of neither team care much about the Reds, though, preferring instead to keep their own century-plus rivalry going. “Sometimes fans don’t feel the same towards one another. It’s like a little brother versus big brother situation,” Cobbs said. That’s disappointing news, but Reds fans can lessen the sting by knowing they’re No. 3 in the country for boozing it up during games, according to research from a gaming media group.

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